The Niqab ban is slowly creeping it’s way around the west. People are all for liberation. An attitude comes from people who club all veiled women into a single monolithic group of oppressed, choice-less women without any understanding, voice or values of their own. But what they don’t realize is they are infringing on the very right to freedom that they claim to stand for. We have in the wake of the ban, a lot of empowered women voicing against it. And mind you, many of them are veiled! We are here rolling our eyes people… and going on our next Niqab shopping spree. I was inspired to write this as I came across this hashtag #handsoffherniqab on Instagram. I would like to add to that, you need to take your #mindoffherniqab too.
I come from an Indian city were the Niqab is probably more commonly worn by muslim women than in any other state or city in the subcontinent and I have lived all my life in a gulf country where it’s the norm. Yet, I was fully aware and knowledgeable abut my options when I chose to don my Niqab. I have always been comfortable in it. I have felt respected. People are a little more conscious around a Niqabi, I am never offered a handshake by a man (which would be refused if he did, so saved on the awkwardness there). That being said, I still see a bit of negative stereotyping even though I am surrounded by veiled women.
Whenever I am in a hospital or some public place, I am first assumed to be an Arab local or a minority of Indian-Pakistani housewives who do wear the face veil. It’s a cultural thing, many surmise. In either case, I am not expected to speak in anything other than Arabic or Hindi. Am not very fluent in Arabic, so if the conversation goes beyond the usual pleasantries and basics I have to request to be spoken in English. On the other hand, if somebody gauges my actual nationality, either through a careful observation of the nuances of my appearance or through some document or ID proof, I am spoken to in laughable Hindi. Now I don’t consider language to be a sign of backwardness. I don’t mind that. I am literate and fluent to varying degrees in Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu. I know a lot of local and expat women don’t speak English – many of them veiled – and I totally respect them. But undoubtedly English is the global language and the reason these people didn’t choose it as their first choice of communication with me was not for their love and respect for Arabic or Urdu, but because of their subconscious mental calculation that the Niqab has prevented me from education (in English, if I may add) and I was quickly downgraded in their mental scale of qualification. I am not angry at the language you are using. I am irritated at where this is coming from. Your mental peek behind the veil peering pityingly into a woman without choice.
People have preconceived knowledge of my profession too. At a blogging event, I happened to meet another ‘blogger’ ( the Instagram type ) and I somehow mentioned that I don’t get to attend as many events because I am busy with the kids. To which was her emphatic, condescending reply, “At least you are not working like us…” What?! You think this is not work enough, handling kids? Clearly you don’t have any of your own. You probably spend 8-10 hours at your comfortable office and then you are free to do what you want. My 24/7 job is raising my kids. Its the most important work I will ever do. And I do so gladly. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Rant over. Mothers have thanklessly done their job and suffered this attitude since time immemorial. Nothing new. But hey, wait a second… we had just said Hi and started talking about this blogging thing. When in the last two minutes did I tell you that I don’t work within a profession, as that’s what you originally meant? Well, the person invited it so let me just say this, it turns out that I (with just my eyes visible) have more educational qualification that the said miss. And I do work. I have an income of my own. I work from home, which is harder than you might think. Stereotype unveiled. You dressed the way you did by choice and I didn’t judge you for that or make guesses about you and your life. I do so by choice too and I deserve the same.
“Do you sleep with this thing? Do you walk like this at home? Do you wash your face with the Niqab on?! It’s strange how people can have such weird questions about the Niqab” says Sahar, a Qatar blogger at OryxLandLIfe. Her answer to that is, “Well folks, I was born with a veil on my face!! That’s how natural a choice it feels to me. To me ‘the veil’ is freedom – freedom of expression, freedom of communication and the pride of my culture. The veil is not a boundary but rather an outfit for me that I chose to be identified in. The power of the eyes as you call it – Look through the eyes of the person who you are talking to – the Niqab has taught me confidence!”
You will find in those eyes compassion and kindness, you will see the spark of hopes, dreams and aspirations. You will see the gleam of knowledge and learning. Only if you removed the veil from the eyes of the beholder.
Many people question why does this poor girl have to go through this, says Sumaica Asad in her article about “What does Niqab mean to me”, where she answers how its a choice that has all to do be a better human being and nothing to do with the men in her life.
For some it is a choice they have to fight for too. A good friend of mine is the only one in her family who wears the Niqab. In fact she met a lot of resistance from her in-laws, faced giggling kids and the ‘ninja’ joke, was judged as backward, low-class and extremist in Pakistan – her home country. In the end, her husband respected her choice and living in a gulf country made the transition smoother.
“When I made the independent decision to practice the Niqab, I was pegged as an extremist in the religion by the Muslim community itself” says the fabulous artist behind Artamus Creations, also a biotechnologist, “However, the situation only pushed me further to build my character according to Islamic values and I hope that it presents to my community a chance to redefine myself only as a more practicing Muslimah and that they see the heart behind the veil.”
Let me just tell you that the veil has nothing to do with our language, culture, wealth, educational qualification or our worth. We are professionals or nonprofessionals, some austere, some free spirits, fashionistas or simple Janes – personalities and traits as myriad as can be. We are here happy and free. Most importantly we are all so by choice. Choice of our own to please our Lord. Choice of our own to go the debated extra step. Choice of our own to do what we want within the circle of permissibility, choice of our own to show what we want to the world and hide what we want. I recognize that a minority of women may be forced, but that isn’t ground to vilify the entire tradition. We are more and many, We are free and rejoice in our freedom.